To someone living in the 21st century, sticking a feather in your hat is understandable. But then calling it "macaroni"? That doesn't make sense. What were our forefathers thinking when they came up with the song Yankee Doodle, which was eventually at least 15 verses long?
First of all, although Yankee Doodle is firmly woven into the fabric of our nation's history, it began as a song used by British soldiers to make fun of the American soldiers, Back then, songs were often used as a means of satire and criticism. The term Yankee referred to Americans and "doodle", according to Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the American Language, meant "a trifler or a simple fellow". As the Revolution progressed, American soldiers appropriated the song for themselves and created many more verses in which they criticized Britain and praised their own leaders, including General George Washington.
A doodle is a scribbled drawing today, but in Revolutionary times it referred to "trifler, or a simple fellow". The word "dandy" is another derogatory word for which Mr. Webster has a very colorful description.. He defined a dandy as being "a male of the human species, who dresses himself like a doll and who carries his character on his back". The word still has a similar meaning today.
But what about the word "macaroni"? Noah Webster's dictionary defines macaroni as "a fop, fool or a fribble". Of course, I had to look up the definition of fribble, if only to be able to use it in a Scrabble game. This word refers to a "frivolous, trifling, or contemptible" person. Obviously one did not use either the words macaroni or fribble lightly in our country's early days.
Macaroni also describes a group of gentlemen in the 1700s who followed the extreme height of fashion, often wearing towering, curled wigs with feathered hats perched high atop them, These followers of Macaroni fashion were often considered weak and effeminate. The British seemed to be saying that the American country bumpkins were so unsophisticated that they felt sticking a feather in their cap was all it took to make them highly fashionable. Not only that, but they were teasing the Americans, and telling them through song that they certainly did not have the guts to fight off their powerful opponents.
The song Yankee Doodle became so strongly associated with the American people that when the British surrendered after the Battle of Yorktown, it was the song the victorious Yankee troops played. In contrast, the British musicians played "The World Turned Upside Down". It is now one of the country's best loved patriotic songs, as well as the state song of Connecticut.